Album reviews

Kirk Lightsey – ‘I Will Never Stop Loving You’

Kirk Lightsey – I Will Never Stop Loving You

(Jojo Records. JJR-001 CD Review by Adam Sieff)

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One of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a jazz club was at the Sunset Sunrise in Paris three years ago, when Kirk Lightsey cowed a group of exuberant audience members into silence with a stare that was more powerful than any words could possibly have been. He was seated at the piano, the king of his domain and rightfully demanding the full attention and respect that his talent so richly deserves. And this show of steel came from a man of such tremendous warmth and charm!

Lightsey was born 84 years ago in Detroit, where he grew up and developed as a pianist and flautist in that city’s fertile musical environment. He eventually moved to New York and over the years built a phenomenal CV, working with among many others, Chet Baker, Woody Shaw, Pharaoh Sanders, Esther Phillips and Dexter Gordon who nicknamed him ‘Smooth’ due to the Alopecia condition he developed after his time in the Army. As a leader in his own right, Lightsey has made many excellent albums, such as 1974’s Habiba recorded in South Africa with Rudolph Johnson, his solo sets for Sunnyside from the mid eighties and a series of fine albums on Criss Cross.

Now comes I Will Never Stop Loving You, an intimate and very beautiful solo piano recording dedicated to his wife Nathalie, with whom he lives in a beautiful apartment in Paris which has been home for 28 years. He has chosen top class repertoire that he has obviously known and loved for many years, and this 37-minute set of seven performances feels both fresh and reflective.

There are three compositions from Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Infant Eyes and Wild Flower made me go back to the originals and listen again to see what I may have missed. They are graceful and beautifully voiced, Lightsey’s playing is always distinctive and he sounds right on the top of his game. His version of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has a wonderful lightness of touch about it, as does Nicholas Brodsky’s title track which album Jojo Records owner/producer and guitarist Simon Belelty requested after hearing Lightsey perform it live. It went down in one take and is gorgeous. The remaining two tracks are Tony Williams’ Pee Wee from Miles Davis’ Sorcerer and Phil Woods’ poignant Goodbye Mr Evans.

Instead of performing on a Steinway as he would normally do in the studio as a Steinway Artist, this album was recorded on the Fazioli piano at the Studio de Meudon in Paris. It has a rich tone and was beautifully recorded by Julien Bassères, with the occasional breath from Lightsey only adding to the atmosphere.

On the inside of the CD wallet Lightsey writes, ‘Patience. A lesson in patience. My whole life seems to be about the lesson of patience. Patience with myself’.

This is a master at work, we’re so lucky to still have him with us.

I Will Never Stop Loving You is released on Friday 3 September 2021

LINKS: Jojo Records

Jazz Americans in Paris (film)

Interview with Kirk Lightsey from 2015

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